It appears that I misinformed myself last week (never a difficult thing when relying on an Italian Wikipedia entry through Google Translate), and only the first episode of the Inspector De Luca mini-series was a prequel. Episode 2 lands us firmly in the dying days of the Second World War, as far as Italy is concerned: it is April 1944, and everybody’s favourite period detective has been posted to Bologna, which is pretty close to the front.
This is supposed to be a reward, but given the proximity of the fighting, and the ruling presence of the Germans, that sword very definitely has two edges.
De Luca (who hasn’t changed in the last seven years, even down to his taste in suits) is currently the most famous Policeman in Italy, thanks to his brilliant detective work in saving Il Duce from assassination. It’s not a fame that he enjoys, particularly as it’s riddled with propaganda: it was good luck and reactions, and an underlying suggestion that De Luca would rather not have done it at all. It certainly isn’t going to make his life easier.
He’s not eating, he’s not sleeping, and no sooner does de Luca arrive in Bologna than he’s greeted by four things in quick succession: partisans bombs interrupting a funeral procession, an encounter with a street urchin whose toy has been confiscated by the Germans, his old colleague from Rimini (who I didn’t mention last week), Pugliese and instructions to go directly to a murder.
The deceased is Ricardo Rehinard (Fox?), stabbed in the heart and groin, in his own apartments. Rehinard, who we will quickly discover is not a nice man, has had three female visitors this morning: Sonja Zarruca, the morphine-addicted daughter of Count Zarruca, Viviane Ariana, a card-reader, and Signora Almieri, wife of a prominent local fascist Professor.
To begin with, there’s a sly, gentle humour to proceedings, arousing a series of wry smiles. It started for me with the title of the episode, Carta Bianca: I found it amusing that, in order to make this comprehensible to an English audience, it had to be rendered into another foreign language, as Carte Blanche. That’s what De Luca’s supposed to have, according to his new commissioner, and the head of the local Fascisti, but when De Luca tests this, he learns that whilst it’s perfectly ok to go after the Zuccari family, carte blanche does not extend as far as the Germans, nor, as he later discover, the Alfrieris.
In practice, it’s only the poor and ordinary who will cooperate to any degree, and that because they can be leaned on: the lot of a Policeman in wartime, in a country that’s facing defeat, albeit with one eye closed, is not easy. In fact, Count Zuccari and Signora Alfrieri both aggressively refuse to even be interviewed: they are above the petty concerns of the Law in their eyes, and as far as Signora Alfrieri is concerned, the party agrees.
As the episode starts to get more serious, and more intense, we start to learn that both families are engaged in collaboration with the invading armies: in competitive collaboration, vying to see who can establish themselves the more trustworthy, so as to retain their status and position when the Allies sweep over Italy. It’s a disgusting sight.
Zuccari’s the more vulnerable and the more proactive: he tries to have De Luca put of the case, sends armed men after him, but he suffers the worse: Sonja, beautiful, blonde but drug-crazy, overdoses on morphine, destroying Zuccari, whilst the Alfrieri’s, who have killed both witnesses, and one of De Luca’s men, are allowed to escape.
Even the card reader, the lovely Valeria Suvich, (who greets De Luca with an immensity of unsupported cleavage) proves elusive, preferring to get it on with him during an air raid that (ostensibly) terrifies her rather than answer a straight question.
It’s growing steadily more fraught, and for De Luca himself. pursues a witness who’s been picked up by the Gestapo, putting himself and Pugliese at risk from them, but there’s an even more serious undercurrent: a long Fascist band is being run by another of his old colleagues from Rimini, Rassetto, who warns him that his name is on a partisan target list, because he is associated with Il Duce’s government: De Luca’s protest that he is merely a policeman is irrelevant.
In the end, Sonja Zuccari’s overdose wraps the case up as far as the authorities are concerned. It is, naturally, not good enough for De Luca, who continues his investigation, eventually tracking down the real killer, the hitherto overlooked Assuntina, Rehinard’s former maid.
Rehinard fired Assuntina for no apparent reason a few days before his death. Unfortunately, he had made her pregnant. As soon as she discovered this, Assuntina came back, pleading for her job back. She witnessed the arrival and departure of Sonja and Valeria (for drugs and sex, respectively) before being able to tell Rehinard, who promptly ordered her out. In fear and anger, she killed him, before Signora Alfrieri arrived to find him dead.
A triumphant De Luca puts Assuntina in chains and takes her back to HQ, intend on reopening the case, and arresting everyone involved, only to find the centre deserted. The front has broken, the Allies are on the way, the partisans are coming out of the woodwork, and Rassetto has turned up to to pull De Luca out of town before the partisans find him.
Even then, the good copper dithers, still wanting to conclude his case in the face of its utter irrelevance in these radically changed circumstances, but under Rassetto’s urging, De Luca comes to his sense, frees Assuntina (who runs like hell), tells Pugliese to get out and hops in with Rassetto, stopping only to return the confiscated clown toy to Nino, the street urchin: his only solid achievement.
As a crime story, the murder, and its deliberately downbeat solution, are merely the peg upon which to hang a story about the investigation of crime in a corrupt society at war, and it is this that makes Inspector De Luca fascinating. This was a far better episode than the first one, because its background, despite the early, disarming, humour, is so much more intense.
Overall, there’s nothing to reflect the complexity and moral ambiguity of the Scandi-crimes thrillers, and the female figures do not compare in strength, but allowing for these, De Luca is a fine programme, and I’m now regretting that there are only two more left.